Bruff's Wake Book Signing

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Date: February 21, 2012

Harold James of Georgetown, Texas, author of Bruff's Wake: J. Goldsborough Bruff & the California Gold Rush, 1849 - 1851, will present images from Bruff's diary alongside modern-day photographs of the same sites at Scotts Bluff National Monument on March 2nd sponsored by the Oregon Trail Museum Association, Oregon-California Trails Association and the National Park Service. Numerous other stops along the eastern part of the trail will be part of this new book promotion tour. Mr. James will kick off the first half of the tour in Manhattan, Kansas on Saturday, February 25 and conclude it on Saturday, March 3 in Casper, Wyoming. A second book tour will commence in Rock Springs, Wyoming later this spring and include other stops in Salt Lake City, Elko, Nevada, and other sites along Bruff's route.

The book signing at Scotts Bluff National Monument is part of the inaugural tour along the California Trail starting in late February 2012. Mr. James will be speaking at various venues along the way about Bruff, his imagery, and rediscovering what Bruff saw on his journey. Bruff spent several weeks in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1849 prior to leaving for California and making his way to a spot near Chico, California. As part of the tour stop at Scotts Bluff at 2 PM on March 2nd the Oregon Trail Museum Association will be selling copies of his book after Mr. James' talk. Bruff's Wake: J. Goldsborough Bruff & the California Gold Rush, 1849 - 1851 was released on October 31, 2011.

Hal James grew up on a cattle ranch in southeastern New Mexico, where he drove cattle across the Pecos River to the railhead shipping pens at Loving. These early cattle drives planted the seed of imagination for him, and later, when he was a geologist for the state of New Mexico, his interest in old trails was rekindled when he participated in a U.S. Geographical Survey topographic mapping program, which included the interpretation of aerial photography depicting remnants of the Santa Fe Trail in northeastern New Mexico.

From here, he became interested in the California Trail, largely because of the large number of trail diaries still widely available today. One name that surfaced again in again in myriad accounts of the journey to California was that of Bruff. In 1980, while visiting an old friend in Coloma, California, James had the good fortune to spy a copy of the rare, out-of-print two-volume set of Bruff's Gold Rush on a book-shelf.

J. Goldsborough Bruff (1804-1889) had already lived an adventurous life by the time of the gold rush. Born into a prominent family in the city of Washington, he spent two years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, followed by several years of maritime travel. Adept at drawing and mathematics, Bruff spent six decades in government service, where he was employed as a draftsman by the U.S. Navy, the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, and the Treasury Department.

At the mid-point on the 19th century, Bruff was caught up in one of the largest mass migrations in history. Given his early military training and leadership abilities, he was inspired to form and lead an emigrating company of 64 men to California. Other than searching for riches and adventure, his main purpose was to compile a guidebook for future travelers, which resulted in one of the best descriptive accounts of trail life during the gold rush of 1849. With curiosity, a sharp eye, and tireless energy, he recorded a narrative, complemented with field sketches, on all that transpired during his six-month journey from St. Joseph, Missouri to the gold fields of California.

Bruff's travels during 1849 - 1851 resulted in over 300 sketches. Two-thirds of that number present some of the first scenes of overland America and the newly acquired state of California. Bruff also produced the first panoramic illustrations showing the geographic setting of the Honey Lake region of northeastern California, the northern California coastline and the Klamath Indians, Mexican harbors, and scenes of the Isthmus of Panama on his return home.

Join the Oregon Trail Museum Association and the National Park Service for an open house and introductory presentation by Hal James at 2 PM on Friday March 2nd in the Visitor Center/Museum at the Monument. Immediately following Mr. James' talk, the Oregon Trail Museum Association will offer the book for sale at a reduced rate from the normal retail price of $34.95.Attendees will have a chance to have the book autographed.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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